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Jojo Rebound

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10 Thoughts on the Caps As They Head into Game Two

Posted on 28 April 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals lost game one to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night by a 3-2 count. The Pens lead the second round best of seven series with game two slated for Saturday night at 8 pm at the Verizon Center.

Here are 10 thoughts on this series after 60 minutes of hockey.

1. Before anyone goes jumping off of the ledge, the Caps, who are 1-8 in all time playoff series’ against Pittsburgh, were 8-1 in game one action in those nine previous encounters. So the Penguins have certainly proven that it’s not how you start the series, it’s how you finish it.

2. Speaking of starts, the Capitals did not have a strong start, especially the beginning of the second period where Sidney Crosby scored twice in 64 seconds after terrible turnovers by Washington. As I blogged before this series began, the Pens love to generate chances off of the rush and get odd man breaks. They did that well enough in the first game to overcome an 83-41 Caps advantage in shot attempts. The Capitals were very good for stretches of this contest, but their start was weak and they made too many “big mistakes.”

3. Washington did a great job of containing Crosby in last spring’s playoffs, but along with Marc-Andre Fleury (33 saves), he was the biggest reason it’s 1-0 Penguins. The Capitals cannot afford to turn pucks over carelessly when he’s on the ice and on the second goal, nobody on the Caps finds #87 and covers him. As a result he scored on an easy rebound goal. You simply cannot not know where Crosby is on the ice, so the Capitals must be more attentive to where the best player in the NHL is, at all times!

4. That was one great hit by John Carlson on Evgeni Malkin that led to the Caps first goal by Alex Ovechkin. Carlson is playing the best hockey of his season. He was dynamite last spring and Washington needs him to be dominant on the back end if they are going to win this series. #74 seems to really raise his game against Pittsburgh.

5. Turnovers are certainly something that has plagued the Capitals when they don’t win and game one was no exception. Without Kris Letang on defense, the Pens are not as fast, so Coach Mike Sullivan really has his two defensemen focused on cutting off the middle of the ice at the their own blue line and on back to Fleury. In the series opener, the Caps had their highest success on zone entries carrying the puck wide on the Penguins defense across the blue line. When they tried to cut to the middle too soon, it resulted in turnovers and that opens up Pittsburgh’s massive rush offense. So zone entries wide and carrying the puck deep needs to be the modus operandi going forward.

6. There is a lot of talk in hockey about luck deciding outcomes in a contest, or bad luck, as Washington suffered in game one. Jake Guentzel saved a sure goal by T.J. Oshie in the crease in period one and there were pucks around Fleury all night that the Capitals just couldn’t get to and bury. Fleury was good, but he was also fortunate. Washington just needs to keep doing what they are doing with pucks and bodies to the cage and it will pay off. They don’t need to get frustrated and change the game plan. Getting pucks deep on the Pittsburgh defense is so important.

7. After the Capitals called timeout with 26 seconds remaining with the Holtbeast pulled, Ovechkin found himself at the point and Kevin Shattenkirk was in the “Ovi spot” in the left wing circle. The Gr8 passed the puck to #22, but he missed the net on a great look. The Penguins had to be very happy to have Shattenkirk shooting from there instead of Ovechkin. I’m not sure if that configuration was planned coming out of the timeout or not, but it would seem that going forward that the Capitals coaching staff needs to find a way to get the Gr8 more of the critical looks? Alex only had eight shot attempts in game one and just three of them made it on net.

8. Given the intensity of game one and Washington’s domination in terms of puck possession, it was pretty upsetting to see the only two power plays go to Pittsburgh. Surely zebras Dan O’Halloran and Kevin Pollock could’ve called at least one infraction on the Pens, who were masters of the clutch, grab, and hold in this modern day style of game? It sure looked like there was delay of game on Bryan Rust in the slot on that loose puck late in the third period. I also didn’t like either call on the Caps, especially the late third period slashing penalty on Matt Niskanen when he was just going for the rebound of a loose puck off of Fleury’s pads. There were a lot of rebounds allowed by Fleury in this tilt and that play happens hundreds of times during games in the regular season and playoffs with a penalty very rarely called. The fact that it came at that point in the game and it was on Washington sure is fishy. Coach Barry Trotz labeled it “a pretty light call” afterwards, especially given everything else that was let go during the contest. Be better and more consistent zebras (although I’ve long given up on the arrogant O’Halloran)!

9. The Caps are at their best when they press the play on the Penguins and force their defense to have to make plays and work. Unfortunately, that strategy sometimes opens the Capitals up to the possibility of the Pens getting some quick offense on a stretch pass, if Washington does not stay structured. Somehow Pittsburgh was able to connect on one in the last 10 minutes to win the game. That cannot happen going forward. There were several mistakes made on that play by Washington. Shattenkirk needs to keep Scott Wilson wide at the defensive blue line and prevent a cross ice pass while Brooks Orpik was too far to his left and up the ice, and Nick Bonino exploited the gap with his superior speed. The Caps forwards also need to make sure someone is in position to stop that long pass or at least ensure that they are with any opposing forwards charging up the ice. As Coach Trotz said afterwards, all three Penguins goals were very preventable.

10. With the Capitals having lost the last six games they’ve played in Pittsburgh, it is imperative that Washington plays their best game on Saturday night to even this series up. It won’t be easy, but if they minimize their mistakes and bring the effort they brought the last 25 plus minutes of game one (they had the puck way more and also out hit the Penguins, 41-17), then they should be in good shape.

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Ovi 1000

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Alex Ovechkin Hits 1,000 Points in Caps 5-2 Win Over Pittsburgh

Posted on 11 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Alex Ovechkin came into Wednesday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins needing just one point to reach 1,000 in his career.

It didn’t take him long to get it.

Just 35 seconds into this tilt on NBC Rivalry Night, the Gr8 received a breakout pass from Nicklas Backstrom, after T.J. Oshie made a great defensive zone hit and steal, and he carried the biscuit into the slot and zipped it by Marc Andre-Fleury to give the Capitals a lead they would never relinquish.

An already energized Verizon Center went nuts and when the Gr8 scored on a power play ROCKET at 8:06 of the second period, it was becoming clearer that Washington was going to win its seventh straight contest.

Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has really turned it on since we’ve started 2017, then fed Justin Williams for his 12th goal of the campaign on one of his patented behind the net passes just 4:31 into the final frame to make it 3-0.

At that point, the only thing that could thwart Washington was a parade to the penalty box and that began with a questionable call on Dmitry Orlov at 6:28 after it sure looked like Patrick Hornqvist should’ve been going off with him. This scrum resulted following a cheap swipe by Carl Hagelin on Braden Holtby (30 saves) after he had covered a puck.

The Penguins have a great power play and Evgeni Malkin scored to make it 3-1. Pittsburgh would push hard for another, but a Steven Oleksy knee on knee hit put him in the box for the second time in this one. Simply put, Oleksy is an AHLer and looked overmatched out there. Those hits weren’t intentional, he just isn’t fast enough to play at the top level.

On the ensuing power play, somehow the Caps messed up at their offensive blue line and Matt Cullen received a shorthanded breakaway, but the Holtbeast got a piece of the shot to calm things down. About 10 seconds later, Backstrom scored after another brilliant pass by Oshie to make it 4-1 with 6:49 remaining. Game pretty much over, well except for those guys in stripes, who just had to continue to make their mark in this one.

Oshie was jailed for his third minor penalty of the night and Sidney Crosby, who was held in check well by the Caps on Wednesday, fed Hornqvist perfectly on the door step for a tap in with 2:36 to go.

The Caps would keep the Penguins without any real chances from then on, though, and Lars Eller launched one off of the dome of Kris Letang and into the empty net to seal the deal.

Oshie, who missed Monday’s big win in Montreal, would notch three assists and Backstrom had a goal and three helpers. Holtby was outstanding again, but it was El Capitain, Ovechkin, who set the tone early in this one and staked his club to a two goal lead to make no doubt about whose night this was going to be.

Ovi only played 16:52, he’s being paced for the post season, but he had two goals, 11 shot attempts, seven shots on goal, and two hits. He even set up Backstrom when it was 2-0 for an open net shot, but the puck fluttered a bit on Nicky and he shot it high.

This was a vintage Ovechkin game and he rose to the occasion after Pierre McGuire threw all of Crosby and the Pens championships in the Gr8’s face in a pregame interview. Yes, Caps fans, it was another tough night of watching NBC and having to listen to some weird analysis, but when you come out on top over the defending Stanley Cup Champions, it seems worth it.

Once again, the Capitals were on the short end of the stick in power plays for the seventh straight game, but they’ve won all seven. They have not had more power plays than their opponents since December 17th against Montreal. By the rulebook, those were penalties on the Caps, no argument there, but what is ridiculous is the continual lack of calls against their opponents. It’s not being called fairly and I still don’t know how the heck both referees missed Ian Cole’s butt end to the face of Marcus Johansson? I could point out at least a half dozen or more infractions committed by the Penguins that weren’t called, but the league will continue to do nothing about improving their officiating to make it more consistent. It’s like they are trained to officiate the score.

Anyways, despite what Mike Milbury said after the game, the Capitals weren’t the only team trying their hardest out there. Washington was very sloppy tonight, but their back checking was outstanding and covered for several of their mistakes. When they didn’t have that support, the Holtbeast was there to shut the door. Braden is on fire and he continues to make the timely clutch save. If Cullen makes it 3-2, who knows what happens? That’s why you need a great goaltender, and Holtby is certainly that.

The win improves the Caps to 27-9-5 (59 points) and they take over 2nd place in the Metropolitan Division, just a point behind the Columbus Blue Jackets. At the halfway point of the season, Washington is looking like a Cup contender and the recent uptick in the play of Kuznetsov has made them a much more dangerous team because the opponents can’t put all of their focus on Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Oshie. Add in the strong recent play of the Brett Connolly-Eller-Andre Burakovsky line and Washington looks much more daunting than last spring.

But there’s still 41 games left and we are three months from the playoffs, so it’s not worth getting too high over. January has certainly been encouraging for the Capitals, but to quote the great Phil Collins, “still it would seem we’ve still got a long, long way to go.”

Notes: The Pens won the shot attempt battle, 64-51, but I thought the Capitals had more of the quality scoring chances. Washington did a great job of keeping Pittsburgh on the perimeter at even strength…Matt Niskanen was +3 and led the Caps in ice time at 23:11…John Carlson had two assists and five shots on net in 22:19…Orlov had an assist and was +2 in 20:18. Outside of getting beat one on one by Crosby in period one, he was really good…the Capitals cleaned up on draws, 43-26. Backstrom and Beagle were both 14-7…the Caps will face the Chicago Blackhawks at 7 pm on Friday night at the Verizon Center.

 

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nicky-oshie

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Caps Destroy the Penguins, 7-1

Posted on 16 November 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Motivation and effort were not an issue on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center as the Washington Capitals totally destroyed the Pittsburgh Penguins, 7-1. Nicklas Backstrom had two goals and three assists while T.J. Oshie also scored twice and added two helpers to lead the Caps offense out of its recent slumber. Braden Holtby made 25 saves in net against the defending Stanley Cup Champions as Washington improved to 10-4-2.

There were so many positives to take out of this game, starting with the effort and passion. The Caps, who played in Columbus and lost in OT on Tuesday, then flew home afterwards while the Penguins rested in DC, were all over the ice for the full 60 minutes. They were skating, hitting, and putting pucks in the correct places on the rink. They played a north-south game that gave the Penguins fits and this one was over quickly.

Washington tallied three times in the first frame with Oshie opening the scoring shorthanded on a rebound goal after a Jay Beagle breakaway was stopped by Matt Murray. Backstrom then made it 2-0 with 2:30 left in period one on a goal similar to his marker in Columbus on Tuesday, a shot from the slot while using the defender as a screen. Then with eight seconds remaining and the Caps on a four on three advantage, Oshie buried the rebound of a John Carlson blast.

The Caps then gave Pittsburgh little hope of getting back in the game with a dominant second period. They outshot the Pens, 13-6, in those middle 20 minutes, but somehow only potted one puck (Dmitry Orlov’s first goal of the season on a three on two rush set up by Backstrom and Marcus Johansson) past Marc Andre-Fleury. Fleury entered this affair late in period one when starter Murray was hit in the head twice by Evgeni Malkin and was forced to leave the contest.

What was most pleasing was the way the Capitals didn’t take their foot off of the gas in the third period. Washington came out flying and they kept the pressure on Pittsburgh. There was no sitting back like they did recently against Columbus and Chicago, or when they blew a 3-0 lead against Winnipeg a couple of weeks ago. No, on this night, the Caps displayed a killer instinct that they’ve been talking about developing for years.

They stomped on the Penguins throats in this one with Justin Williams finally scoring just over five minutes into the last frame, albeit on a 5 on 3, and then Alex Ovechkin made it 6-0 on a sweet breakaway goal just after the 10 minute mark. Phil Kessel would break the Holtbeast shutout with 3:32 left when Orlov didn’t tie him up at the side of the net, but Backstrom erased that marker with a goal just 30 seconds later to close out the scoring.

It was a win the Capitals badly needed after scoring just five goals in their previous four games. They played with a purpose and got back to the things that make them successful; coming into the offensive zone with speed, getting pucks on net or below the goal line so they can use their size, and crashing the cage for rebounds. There was maximum effort and attention to detail. Gone from their game were the sloppy east-west passes they had been employing at the opponents blue line and it made a huge difference in the outcome. The Penguins defense repeatedly had to go back and get pucks deep in their own zone and the Caps took over that part of the ice, which is one of their strengths.

Bottom line on NBC Rivalry night, there was an ass-kicking that took place and the Capitals delivered it to their arch rivals on Wednesday evening.

So see ya Penguins and take your arrogant banner tweet home with you.

Notes: The Caps won the face-off battle, 45-35 and out shot attempted the Penguins, 68-46. That’s all about the effort as Washington totally manhandled Mike Sullivan’s club…in addition to his five points, Backstrom was 18-9 on face-offs.  Most of those draws came against Sidney Crosby, who went 8-18 and was a -3 on the evening. His biggest contribution in this affair was yelling at the referees…the Caps were rewarded for their effort with seven power plays and scored on two of them, a 4 on 3 and a 5 on 3. The only area you could complain about for the Capitals was the 5 on 4 man advantage which went 0 for 5 in this tilt and needs work…Ovechkin left the game briefly in period two after Kris Letang tripped him, but the Russian Machine that Never Breaks returned to get a breakaway tally and end his four game goalless streak in the third period…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 24:14. Ovechkin played 18:38…Letang led the Pens with 23:50, but he was -5 (on the ice for every Washington even strength goal)…final shots on goal were 39-26 in favor of the good guys.

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Holtby End

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Luck Not the Sole Reason for the Caps’ 2nd Round Exit

Posted on 13 May 2016 by Ed Frankovic

There have been 41 Washington Capitals seasons and zero Stanley Cup Championships.

Those are the facts, there is no denying them.

2015-16 was supposed to be different. It sure felt that way, from the general manager to the coaches to the players to the fans and even some in the media. Heck, I was front and center putting myself out there saying this team and this season would be different.

In many ways, it was, and we’ll touch on that later.

But in the end, as Justin Williams, John Carlson, and many other Capitals players proclaimed on breakdown day on May 12, 2016, the season was a “failure” following a devastating overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in game six that allowed the Pens to win a very closely contested series, four games to two.

Pittsburgh scored 16 goals and Washington tallied 15 times in the series. Each Penguins victory, two of which came in overtime, was achieved by a single goal. Both teams had stretches where they dominated the play, but ultimately it was the Penguins who prevailed.

Did the Capitals deserve a better fate from the Hockey Gods?

Maybe, I mean how often do you see a goal scored off of the back of a player? That happened in game three for Pittsburgh, a game in which the Caps carried the large majority of the play, but managed to lose. Numerous times in this series the Capitals had themselves in position to bury a puck at a key moment, and somehow it bounced over their players stick. Surely luck was not on their side, and as Matt Niskanen noted on breakdown day, you talk to guys around the league who have won championships and they’ll tell you need luck along the way to win.

There is truth to that, around these parts there is no denying that the two Super Bowls the Baltimore Ravens won included some luck. Al Del Greco hit the upright on a field goal right before halftime and then a blocked Del Greco field goal, in the fourth quarter, landed right in the hands of Anthony Mitchell and he then returned it for the game winning touchdown in 2000 against the Titans. Joe Flacco’s Hail Mary pass to Jacoby Jones in 2012 went over the head of a Broncos safety that mistimed his play on the ball for the tying touchdown to set up overtime and an eventual huge Ravens upset. All of those plays included luck, but the Ravens were also good enough to put themselves in position to get the breaks.

You certainly need some luck to win and the Capitals received some of that in series one when Jason Chimera’s innocent dump in deflection traveled 100 feet and through the wickets of Steve Mason into the cage in game two. The Caps took advantage and raced to a three to nothing series lead and eventually prevailed, four games to two over the Flyers.

In series two, Washington didn’t get the bounces and lost by a goal, but it wasn’t bad luck that did them in.

We’ll get that to what ultimately doomed them in a minute, but first, let’s put some perspective on where this team has come from over the last two years.

After a disastrous 2013-14 season, the Capitals were an absolute train wreck and a Stanley Cup seemed to be mostly an unobtainable goal in the near term. Following the conclusion of that season, I was full of piss and vinegar and rightfully called for the ultra-conservative and often panic stricken general manager to be let go, along with the divisive bench boss who seemed to insist on being the smartest guy in the room. I was furious that the blue line continually was not properly addressed by George McPhee for over 10 plus seasons. Fortunately, owner Ted Leonsis and team President Dick Patrick saw the same thing, when many in the national media were once again calling for the core of the team, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, to be shipped out instead.

Enter Coach Barry Trotz and promoted General Manager Brian MacLellan to commence a massive turnaround. They immediately went to work on two things the club desperately needed, a blue line fix and an identity as a team.

“Last year when I came here, that was the first thing we did, was fix the defense. We got two outstanding players in Brooks [Orpik] and Matt [Niskanen] and we started the process of building a culture and it started by fixing holes, by going out and getting the best people that we felt could do that and getting people who have won, then the next phase of that was to develop our own people,” said Caps coach Barry Trotz to Nestor Aparacio and I on February 29th, 2016 at a WNST radio event at Buffalo Wild Wings in Belair to continue the fight against leukemia and support the bone marrow registry.

Those moves laid the foundation for a very successful 2014-15 campaign that saw Washington return to the playoffs, defeat the New York Islanders in round one, and then lose in painful fashion, in overtime, in game seven against the New York Rangers. The Capitals only allowed 13 goals in seven games, but could only muster 12 goals themselves and lost twice in overtime in the final three contests.

It was an awful defeat, they lost a three games to one series lead, but everyone knew that the main problem was the Capitals didn’t have enough talent up front to score consistently. The loss was rough, but things were rapidly moving in the right direction after utter chaos just a year earlier. My end of the season blog focused on the need to improve the top six forwards and sure enough, MacLellan pulled it off dealing Troy Brouwer for T.J. Oshie and signing Justin Williams to a two year free agent deal. Unfortunately, adding those guys and the need to pay goalie Braden Holtby what he was rightfully worth, put the team up against the salary cap. With it not possible to move Brooks Laich’s boat anchor of a contract in the summer, the team was forced to part ways with grinding forward Joel Ward and defensemen Mike Green, both key players on the squad that fell just short against the Rags. They were tough personnel losses to a team that had become super close.

But Oshie and Williams fit in perfectly and the Ward and Green losses faded to the back of everyone’s mind as the Capitals stormed out of the gate and blew the league away in the regular season pretty much clinching the Presidents’ Trophy by Valentine’s Day. Holtby was legendary in the cage and he tied the NHL single season victory total for a goalie with 48 (tied with hall of famer, Martin Brodeur). It was so much fun and the team seemed to get tighter as a unit as the season moved on. This was surely setting up to be the year for a Cup parade, but quietly the Pittsburgh Penguins were addressing some serious issues they had themselves.

They fired their coach, Mike Johnston, and replaced him with former Rangers assistant Mike Sullivan. But more importantly, general manager Jimmy Rutherford made some great moves to transform his roster. In the summer, he traded high draft picks to Toronto to acquire scoring winger Phil Kessel and he dumped the slow and plodding Brandon Sutter for speedy Nick Bonino. After the season began, he also swapped David Perron for super-fast Cap killer Carl Hagelin. Suddenly he had a line that could skate like the wind, but he still had issues on the back end. Rob Scuderi was old and slower than molasses, but Rutherford somehow convinced Stan Bowman, who is considered an excellent GM, to deal mobile defensemen Trevor Daley for the past his prime Scuderi. It was a fleecing or highway robbery of a deal, whatever you want to call it. From there the Penguins were the best team in the league from January on and Washington knew they’d have their hands full with them, at some point. The Caps had become somewhat complacent given their huge standings lead while Pittsburgh pressed madly to move up the standings after wallowing out of playoff position for much of the first 40 games.

While the Penguins were making all of these moves, MacLellan not only added Oshie and Williams, but he brought in Mike Richards as a depth center. That move was excellent and if not for some of Richards outstanding penalty killing skills, the Flyers might have won game six, as well as game two. Richards ability to read back door passes and get his stick in lanes on defense and while shorthanded was very much needed. The Caps suddenly were not only super on the power play, but also on the penalty kill.

With the Richards move, the Caps only real question marks appeared to be on defense. The loss of Green was a blow, no doubt, you don’t replace a player of that caliber easily, and the Caps plan, partly due to limited salary cap room, was to go with rookies Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt on the back end as a third pairing. When Orpik was injured in early November with a cracked femur, suddenly those guys were forced to play more minutes than originally planned. They played well, too, perhaps clouding the judgement of the Capitals brass as the trade deadline approached. MacLellan did add Mike Weber as a depth defensemen and he somehow masterfully moved Laich out for an upgrade in forward Daniel Winnik. The move also freed up money on the current salary cap, but more importantly for 2016-17 when dollars would be needed to retain Marcus Johansson, who was having a career year, and others like Tom Wilson. Some wanted the Capitals to use that extra dough to acquire another defensemen given Oprik’s health issues and the lack of experience on the back end. Dan Hamhuis, among other experienced defensemen, were still out there reportedly to be had, but Washington passed.

After the trade deadline, at the WNST event with Coach Trotz on February 29th, I specifically asked him about the decision to go with the two players who had zero playoff experience on the back end.

“We talk about that, the blessing this year with Brooks being out for a long period of time, Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt were in the lineup for 50 some games. We already know what they can do and it’s been really beneficial for us. I think by adding Mike Weber we’re eight deep at the NHL level,” explained Trotz on the rationale of where the organization stood on their blue line.

It seemed like a viable plan at the time and Weber certainly seemed like the type of guy who could fill in for an Orpik or even a Karl Alzner if there was an injury. But Oprik came back healthy down the stretch and despite the fact that Carlson missed 12 games with a cracked ankle/foot in March, the Caps only played Weber in 10 of the 21 contests that occurred before the post season began. Basically, the Capitals decided to ride Orlov, Schmidt and Taylor Chorney instead of Weber. #6 was a seven year veteran with more playoff experience (seven games) than the other three combined, but he spent most of the time in the press box becoming rusty. As anyone in hockey will tell you, performing in the regular season is one thing, but doing that in the playoffs is another story, so the Capitals were really taking a risk on the Orlov-Schmidt-Chorney trio.

When Orpik was concussed and injured his neck in game three against the Flyers, I remarked to MacLellan after that tilt that “this was the reason you went out and got Weber.” The GM seemed to nod his head in agreement, yet somehow it wasn’t until a series clinching victory in game six that Weber finally got a sweater for the Caps? The coaching staff went with Chorney over a more physical Weber against a chippy and dirty team like the Flyers. Weber, to that point, had never received the repetitions he really needed to play at a top four level that would be required when Orpik went down.

That leads me to where this season broke down. Yes, the Penguins were the faster team, but you can deter speed by keeping it to the outside and wearing it out with proper execution. The Bonino line, with seven goals, was the difference in the series and while they were fast, several of those goals came from right in front of the net following turnovers. Oprik’s terrible hit on Olli Maatta that took #3 out of three games and #44 too, as a result of a suspension, turned the entire series around, as well.  The Caps were flat the rest of game two and lost home ice. In game three, Schmidt made a costly turnover and then was manhandled in front by the small Hagelin for the eventual game winning goal. He would not play in two of the final three games. Orlov was benched for a game and the Caps only won once with Chorney in the lineup (game five of the Pens series). Weber did get a jersey for game four and played decently, but the game winning goal went off of his stick to Patrick Hornqvist and he was banished to the press box once again.

When Alzner’s groin, that he initially injured in the Flyers series, finally popped in game six, the Caps had little left on the back end other than Carlson and a tiring Niskanen, who played all 82 games and every playoff game with King Karl, to that point. After #27’s injury, Orpik took another awful penalty, a careless double minor for high sticking on Hornqvist with the puck 50 feet away in period two, and the Caps great penalty killing unit was suddenly forced to play both Chorney and Orlov in succession. Two goals in 29 seconds was the result and that put the Caps in a deep hole, 3-0. It was a terrible penalty that Orpik could not afford to take, once again, and it was especially bad knowing that Alzner was done for the game. In short, as much as I like Orpik and what he can bring to the Capitals, he had a nightmare 2015-16 season with his injuries and bad penalties. Simply put, the Penguins were faster, but they also were able to get to the front of the Capitals net, and most of those occasions came when members of the bottom half of the Washington defense were on the ice.

Now the encouraging part of the story is that this is where this Capitals teamed proved to be different.  Instead of folding tent like the 2009 Caps did in game seven against Pittsburgh when they went down 3-0, they fought back and forced overtime in game six showing tremendous fortitude and resolve. They probably should have won too, but failed to capitalize on a late power play that they received. At that juncture they seemed a little too comfortable at that moment at just being tied up, something that occurred too frequently during this season and in the Flyers series, as well.

On to overtime we went and the Capitals, who rode the top six forwards and Carlson and Niskanen on the back end heavily, were out of gas. Niskanen was forced to play with guys he wasn’t used to being paired with and miscommunication happened on the game winning tally, which was another goal that once again came from the doorstep on a rebound.

In a nutshell, the Capitals lost on their lack of defensive depth, something they thought they had, but really didn’t.  They put too much stock in the abilities of Orlov and Schmidt based on their regular season success and they failed to take advantage and develop or possibly misevaluated what Weber could bring to the lineup. It was a waste of a third round draft pick the way it all played out. The Penguins found their way through the Washington back end too easily and Holtby couldn’t prevent all of those second chance tallies.

In addition, their season long tendency to sit back and not take control of games cost them dearly. They didn’t attack in game two and show that killer instinct to seize a critical contest and the series. That lack of killer instinct also allowed a Kris Letang-less Penguins team to steal game four. The Pens gained confidence to win in those first 30 minutes when the Capitals needed to step on their throats and not allow them to believe they could prevail without their best defensemen. It was a major opportunity lost.

Finally, the Capitals loss of Ward took away a player who routinely went to the front of the net in the postseason to get ugly goals. Washington didn’t have much of that against the Penguins outside of a couple of Williams tallies (but one was with the goalie pulled). The Caps need their bottom six forwards to chip in with more greasy goals.

So where does that lead us heading in to 2016-17?

Obviously the team is extremely disappointed that they let a major chance to win a championship slip by once again. The lack of true defensive depth, killer instinct, and inability to add in some rebound goals was what ultimately cost them the series against what should become in June, the 2015-16 Stanley Cup winning Penguins.

Some will call for panic and to try to blow things up, like the San Jose Sharks nearly did following a loss to the Kings in 2014 after owning a 3-0 series lead. Two springs later, the Sharks are in the hunt for the Cup and credit for that goes to hanging on to their core, the addition of Ward up front, and bringing in Paul Martin on defense.

Washington needs to find a Paul Martin type on the back end because running out the same seven guys again, particularly the four after Carlson, Niskanen, and Alzner, carries significant risk.

Johansson will be the top offseason priority to sign to a long term deal. He’s a key piece to this team and had a remarkable regular and post season. He was one of the guys going to the net against the Flyers and scoring tough goals. He also brings a major element of speed.

Wilson is next on the priority list as a restricted free agent. #43 made significant contributions this year on the penalty kill and defensively. In some games, such as game five against the Penguins, he was a difference maker by drawing penalties and keeping the opponent out of the offensive zone. Still, he needs to develop his offensive skills so that he could possibly fill that Ward type of role in front of the net. His improvement is a must and the coaches need to aid that by playing him more. If they prefer not to do that or think he can’t do that, then a move is needed.

Orlov is a restricted free agent, as well, and he and Schmidt are similar players, along with Chorney. The Caps management team needs to determine if that is indeed the way to go to win a Stanley Cup on the back end. My recommendation would be to move at least one of them and upgrade the blue line, especially since Oprik is adding another year and he has an injury history.

Ovechkin is about to head into his 12th season and the Capitals need to win soon (Steve Yzerman’s first Cup came in his 14th season). The Gr8 was superb in these playoffs and downright dominant in several games, such as game five against the Penguins. Oshie, Williams, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Alzner are all free agents after next season and will require more dollars. Carlson has two more years to go at the deal of the century, a contract just under $4M per season. He was the Capitals best player in the post season and will command $7M plus in 2018-19.

Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky are two young players that had super regular seasons, but as a result of playing all 82 games, didn’t have the legs they had in 2015-16 when they were playoff difference makers. They need to learn from that and be better prepared physically next spring. They need to add strength and learn to get some ugly goals in front.

I typically wait several days before writing this blog to let the emotions of the playoff defeat die down, but I don’t think that will be possible this season. This was one tough loss and a major opportunity gone by the wayside. Everyone will feel the pain all summer and I certainly don’t want to be sitting here next season beginning my 2016-17 final blog with a 0 and 42 statistic.

I know the Capitals don’t want me to be doing so either.

Everything the Caps do between now and next April 15th has to be about the playoffs and winning the Cup. The team is tight and the culture is strong, but they need to develop that killer instinct. In addition, the management needs to address the personnel short comings on defense and the coaching staff needs to be quicker to adjust when things aren’t working.

The last thing management needs to do is panic and make radical changes, this team is ultra close, but more is necessary to get over the hump.

So the time is now for the Capitals to start getting at next year and doing everything in their power to make sure no stone is left unturned and no holes are left exposed when injuries or uncomfortable situations present themselves in the spring of 2017 playoffs.

There were a lot of things to like from this team this year, but the ultimate prize was not captured and the season was a major disappointment, or a failure, as many players called it.

The clock is ticking.

They must end this awful postseason losing cycle once and for all.

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Ovie Game 5 Pens

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Ovechkin, Holtby, and Oshie Help Caps Force a Game 6

Posted on 08 May 2016 by Ed Frankovic

With their season on the line, the Washington Capitals received huge performances from their stars in a 3-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night.

Alex Ovechkin was an absolute beast in this contest with a goal and an assist, T.J. Oshie had the same, and Braden Holtby made 30 saves to force a game 6 at the Consol Energy Center on Tuesday at 8 pm.

Wow, what a hockey game!

Both teams left it all on the ice in this one and it was the battle of superb forechecks for the first 40 minutes. After a great start by the Caps, the Penguins put on a clinic with their 1-2-2 pressure forcing Washington into poor puck management and turnovers throughout the later half of the opening stanza. The shots on net were 12-4 for the Pens after 20 minutes, but shot attempts were 25-21 for Pittsburgh since the Capitals missed the net 10 times.

In the middle frame, the Caps did a better job of breaking out by swarming the puck and using the high glass or lob over the Penguins defense. That forced Pittsburgh to do more retreating and allowed the Capitals to carry the play. Washington out shot attempted the black and gold, 26-19, and took a 2-1 lead on Oshie’s rebound of another strong Ovechkin shot. Justin Williams then pounced on a Pens turnover and beat Matt Murray five hole to give the Caps their 1st two goal cushion of this series. The lead could’ve been extended more, but the Caps missed the net 12 additional times, including some great chances for Jason Chimera and Nicklas Backstrom.

In the third period the Capitals played smart using a 1-3-1 type of setup in the neutral zone and, as a result, Pittsburgh had to dump the puck in way more than they wanted. The Caps continued to swarm the loose biscuit and that helped them win a lot of the battles against a speedier team.

Pittsburgh didn’t have many quality chances in that last frame as the Caps played with desperation.

Desperation is what the Caps will continue to feel, because a Penguins victory on Tuesday closes this series out.

Pittsburgh got Kris Letang (30:11 of ice time) back after a one game suspension and his play stepping up in the neutral zone was a big factor early.

The Caps, however, will get Brooks Orpik back on Tuesday after his three game suspension. His veteran leadership and presence should help stabilize a Washington back end that has made too many big mistakes in this series.

On Saturday night though, the Caps defensemen were very solid and the only goal allowed by Washington was while they were shorthanded.

The Capitals received stellar goaltending from the Holtbeast, including back to back huge stops on Patrick Hornqvist (pad save) and Justin Schultz (glove save) late in period two. #70 was dialed in, like his teammates, and they’ll need to be in game six.

Pittsburgh still is in the driver’s seat in this series since the Caps have no margin for error. However, coming into game five, Pittsburgh was 8-0 lifetime against Washington in previous such occasions.

Washington will need to bring their best game if they want to have a chance at extending the series, once again.

Desperation, that’s what every Capitals player has to bring to every battle on every shift on Tuesday night.

Notes: Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 27:28. He was outstanding, along with Karl Alzner (25:02). John Carlson had an assist in 24:50. He was dominant, as well…final shot attempts were 69-58 for the Penguins, but that was due to 3rd period score effects…Tom Wilson only played 7:20, but he drew a key slashing penalty on Ian Cole that led to Oshie’s PPG. Willy also was super on the PK and late in regulation. The Caps were 2 for 5 with the man advantage while the Penguins went 1 for 2.

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Murray Game 3

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Hockey Gods and Mistakes Fail the Caps in Game Three Loss

Posted on 03 May 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Very much like in game five against the Flyers in round one, the Hockey Gods were not on the Capitals side on Monday night in game three in Pittsburgh.

Washington threw 85 shot attempts at the Penguins and Matt Murray stopped 47 of the 49 shots on goal while Pittsburgh was opportunistic on their chances (they only had 36 shot attempts), and lucky, to hold on for a 3-2 victory. The Pens now lead the best of seven series, two games to one.

This was one heck of a hockey game and an outstanding effort from the Capitals.

Unfortunately, they made some critical mistakes that caused the first three pucks to go into their net, none of which you can put on Braden Holtby (20 saves on 23 shots). On the first goal, a puck deflected high in the sky in the Washington zone and the Caps had a hard time finding it. That allowed Trevor Daley to get the puck and fire it on net. Patrick Hornqvist was alone in the high slot screening while Sidney Crosby was battling both Mike Richards and Matt Niskanen in front of the Holtbeast. Hornqvist makes a great tip and Holtby never sees it. Sure, it was a bit of a lucky bounce that got the Pens the puck, but the Caps coverage was terrible, particularly the left wing on the play, who should‘ve immediately moved to take Daley. If he does that, Daley likely doesn’t get the puck nor does he have such a great lane to move to the center of the ice and fire away.

On the second goal, yes, that’s a lucky bounce off of the back of Tom Kuhnhackl, but the Washington forward fails to cut off the Kris Letang stretch pass in the neutral zone and that gives Matt Cullen a lane to the net and creates a two on one.

That’s two good bounces for Pittsburgh, but let’s be honest, the Caps put themselves in position for the lucky bounces to burn them. They must clean that up the rest of this series.

On the third Penguins goal, in period two, the Washington defensemen makes a soft play in the corner and crazily fires the puck into the slot. Nick Bonino easily picks it off and Holtby does his best to delay him from scoring, but the Caps defender who turned the puck over then gets outmuscled by Carl Hagelin in front for what proved to be the winning goal.

The Caps were really carrying the play from the start of the game, but they were down three pucks because of BIG MISTAKES. Two goal holes are usually manageable, but the third one really was the dagger on this night. Not a good play at all by the Washington defensemen.

Murray continued to be stellar in net and a Caps furious rally, which started with Alex Ovechkin’s laser over the goalie’s shoulder at 8:02 of the final frame, nearly was completed. Justin Williams tallied with Holtby pulled with 55 ticks left and then Marcus Johansson nearly tied it in the dying seconds, but he shot wide after a brilliant set up from Ovechkin.

The Gr8 was an absolute beast in this one. He was the best skater on the ice. He had a goal, an assist, seven shots on goal, 18 shot attempts, and nine hits in 24:21 of ice time! Unbelievable!

Sadly, as Coach Barry Trotz will tell you, there is only one stat that matters though, the scoreboard, and it read 3-2, bad guys.

It was a disappointing loss for Washington in that they played well for large portions of this game. They had 58 hits to just 25 for the Penguins and they had the puck the entire game. They played with desperation and passion. In addition to cleaning up the mistakes, they need to maintain their discipline a bit more and their power play needs to convert. I’d like to see more shots coming from the middle of the ice with traffic with that unit.

Discipline is going to be paramount moving forward. With Brooks Orpik getting three games for his hit to the head on Olli Maatta after game two, there was a standard set by the league that those type of hits, late and to the head, would not be tolerated. A three game suspension is huge for the playoffs, but Orpik took it like a man and a team leader, while Coach Trotz agreed with a suspension, too. However, he did take issue with the length of it. Good cop, bad cop, that’s the way that has to play out, right?

Well, now the league has another issue to deal with on Tuesday. With the Pens up 2-0 late in the opening frame, Letang stupidly launches himself into Johansson’s head after the puck was long gone as #90 crosses the blue line. Jojo went down and a two minute penalty was called on #58. Marcus would leave the game and go through the concussion protocol, but somehow he wasn’t concussed and just had neck issues from the whiplash of the hit, which started at the chin area. It is a hit, like Oprik’s, that needs to be out of the game. I’d expect Letang to be suspended and the league will look like hypocrites if it is not the same or very close (two games) to the Orpik penalty of three tilts.

Overall, the Caps did a lot of super things in this game. They played with the energy they need to bring to win for all 60 minutes, they just need to be smarter in their own zone and stay out of the box. The best way to retaliate to stupid or dirty plays by Pittsburgh, like the slash by Chris Kunitz to the chest of Justin Williams that had #14 in pain, is to stay composed, stick to the game plan and their structure, and put the biscuit in the basket.

Chasing for revenge is just wasted energy.

The Caps showed on Monday night that when they put their collective minds to it and bring the passion, they can dominate the game. They’ll absolutely have to bring that effort, with a stronger commitment to avoiding the big mistakes in their own end in game four, if they want to avoid a three to one games hole.

Notes: Game four is Wednesday at 8 pm from Pittsburgh; game five will be at 7:15 on Saturday night at the Verizon Center…Bryan Rust took a shot to the leg and played just 19 seconds…Letang logged 27:57 of ice time. He blocked five shots. Overall, the Pens blocked 19 Capitals shots…John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 27:59. He had an assist and eight shots on net…Marc Andre-Fleury was the back up for Pittsburgh, so his concussion issues appear to be over.

 

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Holtby Pens

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Caps Rally But Fall in OT to the Penguins

Posted on 08 April 2016 by Ed Frankovic

After trailing 3-0 to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the game’s midpoint, the Washington Capitals rallied with three goals to send game #80 to overtime before falling, 4-3.

Braden Holtby made 31 saves, including several big ones when it was 3-1 in the third period, and those stops allowed the Caps to come back and nearly win. Marcus Johansson notched two goals and then Andre Burakovsky nicely deflected home a John Carlson (two assists) pass with 6:24 remaining to even things up.

From there both teams had chances to win it before Pittsburgh received a breakaway with a minute remaining in the three on three session to close the deal.

The bad news of the evening was that the Holtbeast failed once again to tie Martin Brodeur’s NHL single season wins record. Holtby is 47-9-7 this season and he’ll get one more shot this weekend to tie Marty, but he won’t break it since Philipp Grubauer will also play once.

Other than that, this game meant diddly to the Capitals and they played like it for long stretches. As I wrote after the loss to the Islanders on Tuesday, hockey is a game that requires a physical and emotional investment. Coach Barry Trotz prefers Washington employ a style of heavy hockey that emphasizes going through your opponent. For the first four months or so of this season, the Capitals did just that and that is how they pretty much wrapped up the Presidents’ Trophy by Valentine’s Day.

Since then, with their standings position solidified, the Caps have been more about staying in shape and avoiding injury. So far, it has worked.

Thursday’s game resembled one of those week 17 NFL games where clubs who have their playoff seeding wrapped up are just trying to get through the contest unscathed. That’s been the Capitals for several weeks. Playing heavy hockey and going through your opponent comes with a risk, and that is injury. The Capitals have been so far ahead in the regular season that it is just not worth that risk, at this juncture.

So we have only two more of these glorified preseason games to go, on Saturday in St. Louis and Sunday at home against the Ducks. Those two teams have division titles to play for while the Caps only have individual achievements left to motivate them.

Let’s be honest, that’s of more importance to the fans than the Capitals themselves. Talking with the players after Thursday’s contest you could just sense that they are extremely tired of where they are at right now, which is playing for nothing. They want to be in the playoffs, which won’t start until Thursday the 14th. I’ll reference the great Tom Petty with one of his lyrics to sum up the current state of the Caps, “The Waiting is the Hardest Part.”

There are many who are concerned about the Capitals recent uneven play, but Alexander Ovechkin was asked about the Capitals string of losses afterwards and if he was worried. His simple one word answer says all you need to know, “No.”

Anyone who watches a lot of hockey and was subjected to the contest on Thursday night knows that game looked nothing like how things will play out starting next week. Too many players had time on the ice without an opponent hitting them or being in their grill.  We could go through the tape of the contest and I could point out dozens of instances where a Capitals player chose not to throw a hit or be more involved because frankly, these games don’t matter. The last thing anyone wants to do is be injured with the post season just a week away.

While this game had minimal hitting, there was some chippiness to it because these teams frankly don’t like each other, and both fan bases despise each other, as well. They are second on my list, after the Flyers. It’s never fun to lose to either of those Pennsyltucky squads and with this triumph the Penguins won the season series with the Caps, 3-2. All that will get them is bragging rights, though, because if these two teams each win their first round playoff series, then they’ll meet in round two and Washington will have home ice.

Hopefully the Caps will be healthy too, and not exposing themselves to potential injuries now will end up paying off next week and beyond.

Keep the faith.

Notes: Tom Wilson hit Nick Bonino from behind and earned a five minute boarding major in period two. It was an unnecessary play and he was benched, other than in penalty killing situations, for the rest of the contest. He finished with just 5:50 of ice time…both teams were 0 for 4 on the power play, but the Pens had 9:25 of time to just 6:25 for Washington…shot attempts favored the Penguins, 56-52…Ovechkin had five hits and 10 shot attempts, including six on net in 22:03 of playing time…Matt Niskanen led the Capitals in time on ice at 27:37. Kris Letang played 30:44 for the Penguins. How much will he have left in the tank for the post season with all of the minutes he’s been logging?

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The Caps start slow, but finish strong in a 3-2 victory over Pittsburgh

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Caps Rally to Beat Pens Via Heavy Hockey

Posted on 02 March 2016 by Ed Frankovic

It is not how you start, it is how you finish.

On Tuesday night at the Verizon Center, the Washington Capitals came out sluggish and dug a 2-0 hole just 23:45 into this contest. The Caps were not skating at all and were not physically or mentally engaged in the game. As a result their gap control was terrible and the speedy Penguins took advantage of the space they were allowed on the ice.

But everything changed on the shift after the Peter Hornqvist tally, as Coach Barry Trotz shuffled the deck and put Mike Richards out with Tom Wilson and Jason Chimera to try and generate some much needed energy. Boy did it pay off as those guys were all over Pittsburgh and with #43 creating havoc in front, Richards notched his second goal of the season with a shot that Pens goalie Matthew Murray (34 saves) never saw just 39 seconds after it was 2-0. Afterwards, Richards said the goal belonged to Wilson, because he thought Willy tipped it, but regardless of that, the Caps were back in the game and they came to life with a vengeance.

For the final 35+ minutes this was mostly heavy hockey by the Caps. They were slow out of the gates due to no practice on Monday and it looked even worse with the Pens having played on Monday in a 6-0 rout of Arizona. In typical fashion, the Capitals started tilting the ice with their physical play and later in the period Justin Williams came down the left wing, kept his feet moving, and wrapped a puck around the right wing side of the Pens cage. Evgeny Kuznetsov had alertly positioned himself in front of the net and he whacked the biscuit home to tie the game up, with 3:57 left in period two, and totally ignited the Verizon Center crowd.

From there the Caps continued to pressure Pittsburgh. As expected, with the Pens having played the night before and Washington possessing a deeper and more physical team, the Capitals carried the play in the last 20 minutes and would win the game on the power play.

Evgeni Malkin high sticked T.J. Oshie in the neutral zone and that set up the #1 ranked unit in the league for a man advantage with 7:15 remaining. Pittsburgh, according to Matt Niskanen, became focused on shadowing Alex Ovechkin, and that allowed Nicklas Backstrom to feed #2 for three straight blasts from the point with traffic in front. As they say, the third time is a charm, and Niskanen’s rocket found the back of the cage. Following the game, the unselfish defensemen stated that Oshie had tipped the puck and deserved the goal.

So that’s two goals for Washington in which the official goal scorer said it wasn’t his goal. That’s a team that plays for each other and one that only cares about one thing, winning. This club has great team chemistry.

Winning is what they did as they held Sidney Crosby (1 assist) to no shots on goal and improved to 46-12-4 (96 points). With 20 games remaining they have yet to lose back to back tilts in regulation and the rest of the league remains in their dust.

As for Oshie, well he is one tough son of a gun. He took a knee on knee hit from Crosby and had to leave for a couple of shifts, he was trucked in the neutral zone by Ovechkin, and he also got clipped up high by Malkin to set up the winning power play sequence. You’d think a guy that was banged up that physically in this contest would spend the rest of the night staying on the perimeter, right? No, not Oshie, he was right there in front, doing what is necessary, to score or at least help score the game winning goal. Simply put, Oshie eats rocks for breakfast.

Wilson was outstanding in this contest and he was a big reason the game changed. #43 was flying around and scaring Penguins players while staying in control. He was simply unmanageable by the Pittsburgh defense for the final 35+ minutes.

All three Capitals goals were scored in front via hard work plays to get the puck to the prime scoring area while other teammates worked hard to battle in front to make the job for Murray, who played very well, extremely difficult.

When the Penguins did get a chance late, and Carl Hagelin had a golden opportunity with 33 seconds left, Braden Holtby (28 saves) came up with a big and sassy glove save to deny one of Washington’s biggest rivals. The Holtbeast now has 40 wins this season and is closing in on Martin Brodeur’s NHL record of 48 victories in a regular season.

Bottom line, though, this Caps team, that is still missing John Carlson, is deep and can wear their opponents down and agonizingly take hockey games from you.

They are a force to be reckoned with when they are focused.

The Penguins learned that, once again, on Tuesday night.

Notes: Mike Weber made his Caps debut and logged 12:24 on defense, paired mostly with Nate Schmidt. He blocked a team leading five shots…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time, at 24:26…Washington won the face off battle, 30-25. Backstrom was 11-9…the Caps had 32 hits to just 19 for the Pens…Washington outshot the Pens 37-30. Shot attempts were 64-58 for the Penguins. Washington dug a big first period hole in shot attempts with their poor play…the Caps will face Brooks Laich and the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center at 7 pm. Philipp Grubauer will be in net. Daniel Winnik, who was acquired in the Laich trade, arrived in town on Tuesday and should be in the lineup on the fourth line against the Leafs.

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The Caps keep on rolling, knocking off the Pens in an exciting contest at the Consol Energy Center.

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Oshie & Holtby Help the Caps Slam the Pens, 4-1

Posted on 14 December 2015 by Ed Frankovic

T.J. Oshie had a huge, clean neutral zone hit on Beau Bennett in the first period that knocked #19 from the game and then he added two third period insurance goals as the Capitals won, 4-1, at the Consol Energy Center behind 44 saves from Braden Holtby.

The Pens were fired up for this game, seeing as it was their first under new bench boss, Mike Sullivan, but Coach Barry Trotz’ crew had other plans rushing out to a quick two goal lead behind tallies from Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson. Evgeni Malkin, on a sweet deflection, scored the only goal for Pittsburgh in the first frame, who traded defensemen Rob Scuderi to Chicago for Trevor Daley while this contest was going on (Scuderi actually took warm-ups, but did not play).

The Holtbeast was strong again, especially right at the start of the game when the Pens had some super chances in tight. Those saves allowed the Caps to get their legs and they stunned the Pens and their fans with two goals in the first eight minutes. From there on out the Penguins were forced to play catch-up, something they could not achieve.

This was an exciting and intense hockey game with lots of back and forth action. Pittsburgh was able to get their end to end style going, at times, particularly in the 2nd period. In the final frame, however, Washington did a better job of keeping Pittsburgh on the perimeter and not giving up grade A chances, unlike Saturday night against Tampa where the Capitals literally hung on by their goaltender. Holtby was really good in this tilt, once again, but the Caps did a nice job of having their runs too. That was when they got the puck in deep on a weak Penguins defense and scored some in close tallies.

Oshie’s first goal to make it 3-1 with 11:10 remaining was as sweet of a wraparound tally as you’ll see all season and was the “killer instinct” type of marker that this team talks about getting in the third period. #77 was just superb in this one along with his center, Backstrom, and both had three points. Alex Ovechkin had five shots on goal and eight shot attempts playing with those two, but was held pointless, although that line was on the ice for three Caps goals (one a late PP marker) and just one against.

Carlson was a beast with eight shots on net in a team leading 24:51 of ice time. He and Nate Schmidt (20:10 of ice time and seven blocked shots) were strong on the backend. The dynamic duo of Matt Niskanen (24:13 TOI, +2) and Karl Alzner (23:00 TOI) blocked a combined nine shots, as well. As a team, the Capitals blocked 24 total shots as they forced Pittsburgh to the perimeter on many occasions, especially down the stretch and Holtby had some easy glove saves. There were certainly some instances where the Pens were able to get in close, mostly earlier in the game, but Holtby closed the door.

The Caps received excellent outings from some of their grinders, most notably Jay Beagle (1 assist and 4 hits in 18:16 of ice time) and Tom Wilson (drew a key late penalty and had eight hits in 17:57 of ice time). Both were +1 and did a super job of wearing out the Penguins, who seemed to fade a bit in the third period after the furious pace they set in the middle stanza.

At the other end, the Caps had their share of chances and it took some great shots to beat Marc Andre-Fleury (30 saves).

So the Caps get a big victory against a despised rival. This triumph comes at the end of a stretch of seven games, with six on the road, and they went 5-1-1 to improve their overall record to 21-6-2 (44 points). In the Metropolitan Division, they have a three point lead over the second place Islanders and a four point lead over the third place Rangers and have two games in hand over both squads. The Pens fall to 15-11-3 (33 points) and are 11 points back in fifth place (the Devils are in fourth).

Next up for the Caps are the very fast and skilled Ottawa Senators on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center. The Sens defeated the Los Angeles Kings, 5-3, on Monday to improve to 16-10-5 (37 points), which puts them in third place in the Atlantic Division.

Notes: Shot attempts were 79-52 for Pittsburgh, but the Caps had 24 blocks. The official stats had Washington with only five missed shot attempts, so I question the validity of some of the Capitals totals (home cooking?)…the Caps lost the face off battle, 41-35. Jay Beagle was 11-7 while Evgeny Kuznetsov, who only played 13:41, was 4-12…power plays were 4 to 2 in favor of the Caps, although the last two came in the closing minutes…the Caps had a goal by Justin Williams correctly waved off for incidental contact with the goalie…Dave Jackson and Trevor Hanson called a very good game. Jackson is the best referee in the league because he lets the skaters play and the players seem to always know what type of contest they’ll get with him. I wish the league had more zebras like him.

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The Caps five game winning streak comes to a halt as the Pens win at the Verizon Center.

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Fleury and the Pens Stymie the Caps Offense

Posted on 28 October 2015 by Ed Frankovic

When Evgeny Kuzentsov scored on a lucky bounce just 88 seconds into period three of a scoreless hockey game, it appeared the Washington Capitals would continue their winning ways against one of their three biggest rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins (Flyers and Rangers).

Instead, some costly breakdowns on the defensive side of the puck turned a Caps lead into a quick one goal deficit in a matter of less than three minutes.

Beau Bennett scored after a great stretch pass from Olli Maata to Nick Bonino allowed him to streak in on the right wing and fire two biscuits on Braden Holtby (22 saves) and even things up just 24 seconds after the Kuznetsov goal. On that play, Washington’s forwards failed to cut off the center of the ice to yield a successful pass that is typically intercepted at the red line, when played properly. Compounding the problem was Brooks Orpik was too far to the center of the ice as he was trying to stop Bonino and that gave Bennett the lane to the cage.

If that wasn’t bad enough, then just over two minutes later, after the Capitals got caught in deep in the offensive zone, the Penguins worked a perfect cycle game and Phil Kessel beat Matt Niskanen to the net for the game winning tally. Bonino then added an empty net goal late to make it a 3-1 final.

The Caps now fall to 6-2 and their five game winning streak was snapped.

There were some things to like for Washington in this game. They killed off a lengthy five on three early on and another Penguins power play in the first period to go a perfect three for three on the PK on the night. Holtby was especially strong early on. In addition, they out-shot the Pens, 34-25, and out-shot attempted them for the game, 66-55. Marc Andre Fleury (33 saves) was outstanding in this game, so he deserves much credit for the win.

On the downside, I thought the Penguins did a great job of pre scouting the Capitals breakout and power play (0 for 3). Washington had a lot of trouble generating speed through the neutral zone and when they did, the Capitals often over passed the puck. They had 34 shots, but turnovers in the offensive zone probably cost them another seven to 10 attempts to the cage. When the other goalie is hot, you have to get pucks and traffic on him and the Caps were only successful at that in spurts.

I’ve seen the talk of the Penguins possibly getting rid of head coach Mike Johnston from some who cover the game. I’m not sure if there is any truth to those rumors, but based on what I saw, and granted this was the first time I’ve seen the Pens all season, I thought he did a great job of getting his club ready to play against the Caps. They had bodies and sticks in the Washington lanes all night and their puck support was strong.

Overall, the Pens deserved this one for their superior play in the final frame. They took advantage of the Caps mistakes and their goalie was excellent.

It’s only October 28th and the Caps will learn from this loss. They were too loose, at times, in this contest and they couldn’t bail themselves out with offense. Coach Trotz will have lots of good videotape to show and use after this one.

There are 74 games remaining. The Caps have the makings of a powerful team and are picked by many to win the division. That will happen, more likely than not, but on Wednesday, they didn’t bring anywhere close to their “A” game and lost a close one to a good hockey team.

Next up are the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday. C-Bus is now coached by John Tortorella. Torts is 2-1 since taking over and they are riding a two game winning streak after starting 0-8. Expect a physical game and you can bet Columbus will be clutching, grabbing, hitting, and blocking shots. Tonight’s loss against the Penguins should be good preparation for that type of hockey since Pittsburgh did a fairly good job of keeping the Capitals to the perimeter.

So stay calm and be ready for Friday night.

Notes: The Caps lost the face off battle, 35-29. Sidney Crosby was held pointless but he was 18-8 from the dot…Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Oveckin both played over 22 minutes. John Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 25:16 and Niskanen was close behind at 24:36…Brooks Laich only played 7:16 and Chandler Stephenson just 5:42. It was their line that got caught in the offensive zone on the game winner and allowed the Penguins to get a cycle advantage to set it up. Laich changed before the goal went in.

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